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FAQ for Stenographers

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Who's behind Plover?

Plover was founded by Mirabai Knight, RDR, CCP, CBC, a professional CART provider in New York City. She decided to commission an open source steno engine, and initially found Josh Lifton, PhD, of the MIT Media Lab, to code it for her. Later on, Hesky Fisher, also of MIT and currently working at Google, took over the coding end of the project.

Why does Plover exist?

Falling numbers of graduates from steno schools and the high attrition of retiring stenographers initially caused Mirabai to worry about the future of her profession, as inferior non-verbatim systems (e.g., ER, Typewell, C-Print, automated speech recognition) threaten to fill in the supply vacuum caused by a shortage of steno professionals. At the same time, she saw steno's great potential in helping to improve the lives of the large number of people who work in front of computers all day, whether they're writing prose, creating software, entering data, or communicating in text with friends and coworkers. As a method of text entry, Qwerty is inefficient and unergonomic, but so far it hasn't been supplanted by any of the competing systems (such as Dvorak or Colemak), because they're simply not powerful enough to justify the time investment necessary to learn them. Steno, on the other hand, is. So Plover has a double-pronged approach: Find people who want to learn steno, whether just as amateurs or as aspiring professionals, and give them a cheap, simple, and fun way to try it out; then, for those few who find that they've got both a gift and a passion for steno, provide an opportunity to turn that skill into a career, feeding the talent pools for future professional stenographers and ensuring that steno as a profession will survive into the future.

Why does steno need amateurs?

In most skill-based fields -- music, photography, athletics, and computer programming, to name a few -- a healthy pool of amateurs makes it possible for professionals to exist. People cultivate an interest, buy some cheap equipment, take a few classes, discover that they love the work, hone their skills with thousands of hours of practice, and eventually a very dedicated and talented few are able to become good enough to make a living at what they love. The rest do it without compensation, just for their own pleasure and enjoyment. This is the natural ecosystem of any difficult skill: A wide base of dabblers and dilettantes at the bottom, and a small number of world class hotshots at the top. Without a steady supply of amateurs to hold the ranks, it's difficult for professionals to exist. Many legendary musicians started out with a $50 guitar and a tattered songbook. If every guitar cost $5,000 and the only way to learn how to play it was at a conservatory, how many potentially great guitarists would never even get within strumming range? Plover reduces the $1,500+ initial startup cost of steno to around $70, which means vastly more people can give it a try and see if it might be for them.

What is Hover Plover?

Hover Plover is an arcade game suite that The Plover Project wants to make. It will hopefully teach and drill steno skills in a way that's fun, fast-paced, and addictive. It's not yet in production, but the planning stages are underway. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, several free steno drilling tools are available, such as StenoTutor, Steno Practice, StenoTyper, and Fly.

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Screenshots of StenoTutor and Fly

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Mockup of what Hover Plover might look like once it's developed

Is Hover Plover going to put steno schools out of business?

Very unlikely. There will always be a place for high-speed dictation and one-on-one interaction between steno professionals and students. Hover Plover will be directed at people who want to use steno non-professionally, aren't sure whether steno is for them, or who want to try it out a bit before committing to making it a definite career goal. There will always be some autodidacts who can get through the Hover Plover program entirely by themselves and find themselves certification-ready at the end of it, but that will probably be fairly rare.

Is Plover going to put CAT software companies out of business?

Definitely not. Plover is not court reporting software. It has no transcript preparation utilities of any kind. It was designed by someone who's never made a court or deposition transcript, and would have no idea where to start. However, it might prove useful to people who use other CAT systems for their work but would like to use Plover as a replacement for their qwerty keyboard in daily computing tasks. At some point Plover might become a solid option for CART providers, but there are no plans to make it into CAT replacement software for either court reporters or broadcast captioners.

What are some features in Plover not commonly found in most CAT software?

Plover's main purpose is to replace the qwerty keyboard with a steno keyboard. Unlike other CAT systems, it does not have a text entry window; it's a pure conduit straight to the operating system. Anything you can do with a qwerty keyboard can be done with Plover, and you can use it with the word processor or text editor of your choice. Plover runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Its length-based buffer, as opposed to the time-based buffer used in most CAT software, ensures instant delivery of text with no buffer flushing or time delay. Its dictionary is text-based, so you can search through and edit it using any text editor. Updating the dictionary from the writer is smooth and seamless. And, of course, its biggest feature: It's 100% free and open source. You can download it, keep it on a USB key, and have it to hand as a backup in case something happens to your CAT software. You can distribute it to interested friends and potential steno students. You can run it on as many computers as you like, with absolutely no restrictions. And, if you know how to program in Python, you can modify it and change it to your heart's delight.

Which steno machines are compatible with Plover?

Currently, all Neutrino Group machines (Gemini 2, Piper, Revolution, Infinity series); the Passport; the Lightspeed; the Treal; the Flash; any other machine running TX Bolt protocol; and any machine capable of running Stentura protocol (or being put into a Stentura protocol mode), but only if connected via USB-Serial cable or Bluetooth. We don't yet support Stentura protocol machines connected via USB. Plover also supports qwerty keyboards with n-key rollover. The cheapest of these is the Sidewinder X4, which sells for around $50.

Is a Sidewinder X4 as fast as a steno machine?

No. It's definitely clunkier and squishier than a genuine lever-based steno machine, and a certain amount of accuracy and speed is necessarily sacrificed because of that. It's also somewhat more fatiguing, because it requires more force to press the keys and their travel depth is deeper than most modern steno machines. However, it's perfectly possible for a trained stenographer to reach speeds of 220 WPM or higher using a Sidewinder X4, especially if they have the optional laser-cut steno keytoppers ($20 from the Plover store) attached.

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Sidewinder X4 with laser-cut keytoppers attached

How many people currently use Plover?

Hard to say, since people are free to download and distribute the software as much as they want without asking permission. However, the Plover Google Group currently has 295 members.

What theory is Plover's default dictionary based on?

It's basically Mirabai's personal dictionary, which is a mix of New York Career Institute theory and Sten Ed, with several thousand tweaks, briefs, and additions of her own. Plover works with dictionaries in rtf/cre format, exportable from just about any CAT software.

Where can I learn more?

You can read all about Plover on the Plover Wiki, the Plover Blog, the Aviary, or the Google Group. Or just email Mirabai to ask any questions you might have: plover@ploversteno.org, or @plover on Twitter.

How can I help The Plover Project?

Plover is a 100% volunteer-run effort. Hesky works without compensation of any kind. Mirabai has been collecting donations and has been saving them as seed money for a future Kickstarter campaign to fund the development of Hover Plover, the steno tutorial arcade game suite. Profits from the Plover store also go into this donation pool. Feel free to donate here or to buy stuff from the store, but more than that what you can do for Plover is to spread the word! Use it yourself. Show it to younger friends and relatives. Let people know that learning steno doesn't cost thousands of dollars anymore!